Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Feast of the Transfiguration

I have to admit that I never really "got" the Feast of the Transfiguration until well into my adult years. In fact, it was really only after reading Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth that I began to have a sense of the beauty of the Gospel event and the feast that we celebrate.

(As an aside, I remember that while teaching in a small Catholic school when I was first married, the 7th and 8th grade religion teacher - it was a very small school, so grades were combined - assigned the students to write a paper on the Transfiguration and I thought - *I* couldn't do that!)

Anyway, Pope Benedict's book is beautiful and I love understanding some of the symbolism and connectedness (both to the Old Testament and to other events in Jesus' life) of the Gospel. Here are a few things the Pope shares about the feast:

1. It's important to see it in connection with Peter's Confession - "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." This event takes place about a week before the Transfiguration and there is some speculation that it actually took place on the Jewish Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur):

This would mean that Peter's confession fell on the great Day of Atonement and should be interpreted theologically against the backdrop of this feast, on which, for the one time in the year, the high priest solemnly pronounced the name YHWH in the Temple's Holy of Holies.
(How cool is that?)

There are two different theories regarding the time at which the Transfiguration took place - both of which placed it during the Feast of Tabernacles (either at the beginning - which would fit with Peter's Confession being on the Feast of Atonement - or at the end, which would place the Confession at the beginning of the Feast - the Feast of Tabernacles lasts an entire week).

The Pope argues that the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles - which itself was a Feast of hope and expectation:

'The manifestation of the glory of Jesus,' to quote Danielou, 'appears to Peter to be the sign that the times of the Messiah have arrived. And one of the qualities of these messianic times was to be the dwelling of the just in the tents signified by the huts of the Feast of Tabernacles'... By experiencing the Transfiguration during the Feast of Tabernacles, Peter, in his ecstasy, was able to recognize 'that the realities prefigured by the Feast were accomplished... the scene of the Transfiguration marks the fact that the messianic times have come'. It is only as they go down from the mountain that Peter has to learn once again that the messianic age is first and foremost the age of the Cross and that the Transfiguration - the experience of becoming light from and with the Lord - requires us to be burned by the light of the Passion and so transformed.
There of course are other significances to the story, such as this:
The Transfiguration is a prayer event; it displays visibly what happens when Jesus talks with his Father: the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself "light from light." The reality that he is in the deepest core of his being, which Peter tried to express in his confession - that reality becomes perceptible to the senses at this moment" Jesus' being in the light of God, his own being-light as Son.
Ah, but this is only a light scratch of the surface of the Pope's writings on this topic. You'll have to read the book to see more - especially in the given context of Peter's Confession.


Meredith said...

This is a beautiful reflection Alicia!! I need to pick up this book, I love the Pope's perspective and writing!! Blessings,

Karen E. said...

Fantastic post, Alicia -- thanks so much!